This post contains affiliate links. “As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.”
In a transfer window as boring as January 2021, he could be forgiven for quickly moving past the news of Jean-Philippe Mateta’s signing for Crystal Palace on loan from Mainz.
The 23-year-old had scored seven goals in 15 Bundesliga games for the German team during the first half of the season. Decent loot, but since the names go across the top five leagues in Europe, his is not instantly recognizable to the average football fan.
But if you didn’t know him before Monday night, you are now. Unless you don’t like Crystal Palace vs Brighton and have used the night to take a break from constant football. So obviously you won’t be … Anyway, you get the idea.
Palace has had a pretty massive forward problem for a while now. Christian Benteke’s form has slumped in the last two seasons and while Jordan Ayew is as tough a player as you are likely to see, he was never going to be the long-term answer to that goal-scoring problem. Great to have on a squad like Palace’s, yes, but a fixed striker? Do not.
It was just Mateta’s second Premier League start on Monday, his first against Leeds in a 2-0 loss in early February. He then lasted just over an hour and was a substitute for his next game against Burnley.
He left little impression on either, but made the most emphatic contribution during a first half in which Brighton dominated.
Ayew was the provider on the wing, doing Dan Burn on the outside and crossing under Mateta’s feet. The Frenchman turned perfectly to receive the ball, setting it up perfectly with a back cue that outscored Seagulls goalkeeper Robert Sánchez for Game 1.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about his creative finish was how little he had received the ball. Mateta was a lone figure as Brighton pressed and probed around the Palace box.
As has often been the case for the South Coast team under coach Graham Potter, their beautiful football dwindled, and instead it was Mateta who applied the finishing touch in the 28th minute with just his eighth touch of ball.
While rival Neal Maupay seemed to get in the way with his touches in the Palace area during that first half, Mateta produced a moment of instinctive brilliance.
Palace in general has been quite uneven in recent weeks, with wins against Wolves and Newcastle helping to allay any possible relegation fear. But with Wilfried Zaha out of the game since that win over the Magpies, there have been concerns about his attacking power.
However, on Monday night, just two quality moments that exploited Brighton’s bottom line weaknesses were enough for Palace to regain all three points for Selhurst Park.
Christian Benteke’s effort was arguably the better of the two, a brilliantly controlled volley that flew low into the bottom corner. It was a great result for manager Roy Hodgson, both for seeing that his two strike options weren’t important goals and for scoring all three points overall.
The gap between Palace and Brighton is now six points. If the two forwards can find a bit of shape, it may only widen between now and the end of the season.
For more than Jude Summerfield, follow him on Twitter!